Sunday, January 10, 2010

Week Two Begins...

One week down, fifty-two more to go.  Some things I've already discovered:

*Eating unprocessed requires a great deal of time, most of it spent picking up bar after bar of chocolate, desperately searching for one -- JUST ONE -- that doesn't contain soy lecithin.  I spent a half an hour at Whole Foods yesterday, checking EVERY SINGLE BAR OF CHOCOLATE THEY HAD FROM EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD looking for one that didn't contain soy.  I now know how to say soy lecithin in German, Dutch, Spanish, French, and Portugese.  And I ended up simply buying a bag of whole cocoa beans.  (More on this below).  

*Eating unprocessed requires a great deal of money.  Okay, maybe not a GREAT deal, and it's likely counterbalanced by the amount I'm eating in rather than out, but my grocery bill skyrocketed from about $60 to about $100.  May need to start clipping some more coupons...

*Eating unprocessed can taste really, really good, or can taste really, really weird.  The weirdness generally happens when I attempt to recreate favorite processed recipes (i.e. my grandmother's cheesy hashbrown potatoes) with ingredients that follow the guidelines.  Sometimes funkiness results.

*Eating unprocessed is a great way to convince people to come over.  "I'm cooking entirely whole, natural, beautiful, fresh foods tonight!  Want dinner?"  The number of friends I have in the world just went up.

This final observation provides a natural segue into this weekend's photographs ...

Matt left Friday, and with the apartment to myself, I immediately sat down in front of a "Say Yes to the Dress" marathon with a huge bowl of black beans and melted cheese.  The aged cheddar I found without rennet (purchased before learning from David that rennet is naturally occurring in ALL CHEESES) made the mix a little sharper than I like, but this is still a go-to comfort food, and El Ranchero brand tortilla chips (a Chicago local!) contain only corn, water, corn oil, lime, and salt:

After enjoying my embarrassing singles behavior, my next step without Matt in the apartment was to almost immediately invite over a couple friends I ran into, Becky and Marisa, for a girl's night.  The plan: eat a big, home-cooked meal and watch musicals, ideally singing along under the influence of a few glasses of wine.

I presented them with a couple menu options, and we eventually settled on spinach-orzo salad with lemon vinaigrette, cheesy scalloped potatoes, and home-baked whole wheat bread.  As a surprise, I also worked up the chocolate pot de cremes.

Needless to say, I shopped and cooked all day.

The bread was the easiest; when I taught  on the Reservation in South Dakota, we often baked our own bread.  (We didn't get to the grocery store much;  it was a half hour away.)  I use the recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  The bread is hearty, a little sweet from a couple tablespoons brown sugar, and bakes up beautifully:

We topped it with Kerrygold Irish butter and more of Katie's strawberry jam.

The spinach-orzo salad is a family favorite.  Chop spinach and mix even parts with cooked orzo (cooled with a cold water rinse).  Toss with a dressing of even parts olive oil and lemon juice, infused with a garlic clove and spiced with some salt and pepper to taste.  Toast pine nuts briefly on the stove and add them into the mix, along with crumbled feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, if desired.

My first experiment of the night came with the presentation of the salad: parmesan "baskets" that I'd seen done on Bravo's "Chef Academy".  I followed the instructions here and the result was -- if I do say so myself -- sort of awesome:

The cheesy scalloped potatoes were also from the Better Homes recipe book (a total recommended buy).  A simple sauce is made of one chopped onion and minced garlic cooked in four tablespoons of butter.  Mix in 1/4 cup of flour, then add two cups of milk all at once, stirring over medium heat until bubbly and thickened.  (At this point, I added in a couple cups of grated cheddar and gruyere.)  Pour over a couple pounds of thinly-sliced potatoes in a casserole dish, bake covered for 40 minutes and then uncovered for another 45-50, and you get:

The coup de grace was my surprise dessert for the girls: the experimental chocolate pot de cremes, made from fresh whipping cream, sugar, vanilla, and the Whole Foods cocoa beans, finely ground in my coffee grinder.  The came out absolutely beautiful, and were deliciously thick and richly chocolatey to taste, but remained pretty grainy, even after some monster whisking.  Kind of like when you get to the bottom of your mocha frappuchino, and there are those slightly crunchy coffee grounds down there ... they feel kind of weird in your mouth, but you eat them anyway because you're sad the drink is over and don't want to be that guy who orders a second sugary coffee beverage...

... We finished these, strange chocolatey grinds notwithstanding.

As if last night's festivities weren't enough, I topped off the weekend by heading up north to meet my scientist sorority sisters for our weekly DG brunch.  In honor of this blog, instead of eating out in Lincoln Park, Alima cooked us up an unprocessed breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, and gorgeous french toast.

While eating, we enjoyed some lively discussion of the diet, Pollan himself, and the politics and science of sustainable eating, but this will have to wait for a future post, because, frankly, all this food blogging has made me more than ready for dinner ...


  1. You should look for Theo Chocolate. The ingredient list is Cocoa Beans, Sugar, Cocoa Butter and Ground Vanilla Bean. It's organic and the first three ingredients are fair trade certified. Proceeds go to the Jane Goodall Institute. I've been eating a lot. Mostly for the chimps of course...

  2. I was totally going to say that. Theo is awesome, I toured their facility while I was in Seattle last spring. Taza chocolate is made in Somerville, MA (right outside Boston, and not too far from my apartment, actually!) and it's all natural and fantastic as well. Good luck with the next 51 weeks, I look forward to following along :)

  3. Thanks for the recommendations -- I will definitely look up Theo!